Boone County residents describe what patriotism means to them

Saturday, July 2, 2011 | 7:44 p.m. CDT; updated 9:40 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 4, 2011

This story has been modified to correctly attribute comments made by MaryEllen Siervert and Matt Nappe.

Steve Jacobs is a 26-year member of the Catholic Worker community who is known for his strong political views. Jacobs said his service as a Navy hospital corpsman from 1973 to 1976 heavily influenced his views. He was working with badly wounded soldiers while his commander-in-chief, President Richard Nixon, was embroiled in scandal and eventually resigned as a result of Watergate.

The experience left a bitter taste.


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“I sort of believe along the same lines as Mark Twain, so that loyalty to the people always, but loyalty to the government when it deserves it,” he said. “A lot of the time I think the government does not deserve the loyalty that people have invested in it.”

Jacobs has been politically active not only in mid-Missouri but across the state and country. In 2000, he was arrested in Columbia after kneeling in front of President Bill Clinton’s motorcade to protest U.S. sanctions against Iraq. He also has been arrested for protesting at the School of the Americas, and, more recently, he has been arrested three times in the past two years for protesting a nuclear weapons plant in the Kansas City area.

“My sense of patriotism has evolved over time, and I think when your sense of patriotism allows you to go over and kill people you never met before on the orders of someone else who’s deciding who your enemies are — I think war is the feces that is produced when patriotism eats too much stupidity.”

— Alex Wood

Russ DeVenney Jr. is president of the M. Graham Clark Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, an organization dedicated to patriotism and to educating the public about the history of our nation's origins.

"July 4, 1776, is the accepted date of the signing of our Declaration of Independence and gave our patriot ancestors the framework to establish the United States of America," he said. "This ‘great leap of faith’ said to the rest of the world that the citizens of the original 13 colonies were so determined that they would join together as a new nation; under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. As descendants of these patriots, we are committed to educating our fellow citizens about the sacrifices that the men, women and children of the American Revolution made to establish the United States of America."

— Alex Silverman

Ming-Fen Tsai, 39, first set foot on American soil in 1993. She came to study hotel and restaurant management at Kansas State University, where she met her future husband.

On Feb. 17, 18 years after she arrived in the United States, Tsai received her American citizenship. She had held a green card since 2004.

For Tsai, patriotism means the chance to participate in the democracy. “It means that I get to vote in elections and exercise my rights as an American. I now have equal rights anywhere in the country.”

— Suet Lee

Molly Waldock is a mother and military spouse in Columbia who has coped with two overseas deployments. In 2009, her husband, Jakin, deployed to Iraq during her pregnancy with her third child, and she had a 3-year-old and 10-month-old to care for. Outstanding support from the community during these times shaped her ideas of patriotism, she said.

“Patriotism is how proud we are to be American and what we will do for each other.”

While her husband was away, a landscaping company came and mowed her grass, mulched, weeded and removed snow for her. Neighbors and friends offered to watch her sons. They wouldn't wait for her to ask for help, she said.

Someone would call and say, ‘I’m going to the store for you, what do you need? Cough syrup? Something to drink?’ People would bring food over Monday nights to give her something fun to look forward to, she said.

— Sarah Strasburg

David Finke was jailed several times and even beaten years ago when he was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. In 1966, someone set his car on fire as he peacefully demonstrated during the Chicago Freedom Movement.

Even with these hardships, Finke said his activism is “part of a patriotic vision and calling.”

“True patriotism will uphold human rights regardless of the risk,” he said.

Finke is a member of the Religious Society of Friends, a group otherwise known as the Quakers. He has made a “religious commitment” against war and violence, but he also noted that “to be for peace is more than being against war.”

“To uphold human dignity … is a moral obligation that for me stems both from patriotism and from my religious understanding,” he said.

Finke said that sometimes questioning the government “is not only justified, but necessary,” especially when human rights are being violated.

“I am against blind patriotism, which feels compelled to defend everything that a government does. I don’t think that that’s good for democracy, that intelligent citizens should do that,” he said.

Finke referenced a phrase in the first sentence of the U.S. Constitution: “in order to form a more perfect union.” America, he said, is “not yet perfected.”

“I am pleased with much of, but not all, that America stands for. And I will continue to work to make it better: to live up to the dream and the promise."

Finke said he will display his American flag on the Fourth of July because “this should be a symbol that drives the U.S. to be our very best.”

— Laura Heck

Kris Detmer is a media specalist at New Haven Elementary School.

“Patriotism is complicated," she said. "I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said ‘Think, it’s patriotic.’ It’s not easy.

"It’s about doing the right thing for your country and for the people that live in your country, but doing the right thing in any circumstance is something that takes thought and ... and contemplation and analysis, and really looking at all angles of something. So patriotism is vital, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy or simple.”

— Allison Hinga

John Picray is an interior communications electrician, second class, with the U.S. Navy. He said true patriotism requires action rather than symbolism.

"Patriotism to me has always been taking responsibility for your country and your community. It's a sense of ownership and participation. You don't just live in the society; you are responsible for the society — for what it does, what you do in it, for the direction it takes. 

"You see a lot of people who put the stickers on their car and fly the flags, which is cool, but the military gave me an appreciation for people who actually do things. There's a lot of other people who are doing things like giving blood and people who try to make the country a better place and a place worth living in and fighting for on a daily basis. You don't have to do some big picture thing. .... If you can pick up trash in your local park, that's very patriotic. Those little things add up."

— Katie Wall

Elizabeth Picray is a U.S. Navy electrician, second class, and a flag keeper for Post 202 of the American Legion.

"Patriotism isn't just about supporting everything the government does," she said. "We should question everything the government does. Above all things, we should be on guard of the encroachments of our government. ... It's about defending the hard-won freedoms that we have in this country."

— Katie Wall

What others had to say:

“I guess to certain degrees, it means an air of U.S. exceptionalism. But it may not be entirely true because for some people being proud of America is very important. ... But I don’t necessarily feel the need to go out of my way to celebrate. I feel more of a social equality with countries of the rest of the world.”

— Matt Nappe, a self-described "libertarian socialist" who majored in political science and sociology at the University of Northern Iowa

“It means supporting your country and accepting it with its flaws and merits, and it means being a responsible citizen, which includes voting on all occasions. It means being aware of what is happening with your government. Whether you agree with it or not, you should know what’s happening.”

— MaryEllen Sievert, 69, outgoing vice president of the Columbia Library District board

"It definitely means holding my hand over my heart and taking my hat off any time I hear the national anthem. Even it's just on TV, I'll still take my hat off. It really bothers me at sporting events when people don't.

"It means loving your country and not taking everything that it offers for granted.

"When anyone signs up for the military, they're writing a check to America saying, 'Here's my life, if you need it, you can cash it.'

"Go America."

— Travis McCartney, Air National Guard 

"Patriotism is just the love of our country. I'm very proud to be an American. I show my patriotism by supporting our government and by displaying an American flag on our car and at our home. If I ever see anyone that it is visible that they have served in the military, I'm always sure to say thanks for your service."

— Toni Allen, Grant Elementary School secretary

"Patriotism is a sense of feeling connected to your fatherland, for us America, and all the people here. The most important part of patriotism would be to help those within our own country to bring up the people on poverty and clothe and feed the young children. It's just like a connection to the place that you are that's deeper than just 'I want to be here.'"

— Sarina Smith, peace activist

"Patriotism to me is a willingness to look to your left and right and know that the person standing beside you is worth defending ... mentally, physically and emotionally. It's a willingness to stand up for your fellow man, your countryman. ... Patriotism is both empathy and fierceness."

— Lt. Stephen McKee, recruiter for the MU Army ROTC program

“Patriotism to me means three things. One is that the individual works with and for their community. Second, that they continue to learn as much as they can about their community and our country and history from multiple sources and also about the world, so that they can best help the community and work in the community. And thirdly, when need be, we challenge each other in our communities when we veer off from following the Constitution and our values.”

— Rebecca Graves, educational services librarian, J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library

"Serving your country. Right directly after that is looking out for your fellow man and woman. ... You never know who you're walking past. You could change (a veteran's) life profoundly and not even know it just by a single act of kindness. Being active in the community and showing genuine concern in the community. ... It all comes back to community."

— Michael Cuffee, retired Army veteran

"I get the best sense of patriotism from others when they shake my hand at a gas station or when entire groups of people clap for soldiers as they enter an airport coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan. For me, it's the little things. It's more sand in my toothpaste than flag waving."

— Capt. Jakin Waldock of the 175th Military Police Battalion, Missouri National Guard

"Patriotism is speaking out for what you believe is right for your country. Our country can get on the wrong track, but the patriotic act should be towards bettering your country."

— Dalton Perry, peace activist and student at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa

"Stepping into something that you don't know what it is for your country ... you're accepting a whole lifestyle change. It takes a lot of guts to do that, a lot of courage to do that. ... If somebody wants to be patriotic, if they see someone walking in Walmart or the mall that has a hat on that says Vietnam, walk up to them and shake their hand and say thank you for their sacrifices, any war."

— Master Sgt. William Lampkin of the MU Army ROTC program

"My sister always says I'm one of the biggest patriots she knows when it comes down to it. I'm willing to celebrate anything. Patriotism is someone who will show the true history of everything that was done. Even if it means it's something people view as a negative yet we still mark it on our calendars, I'm willing to show the history of it."

— Jeremy Chinn, Civil War re-enactor with the Confederate Lieutenant Company K 2nd Missouri Infantry

"Patriotism is love of country, something that in its most positive aspect involves honoring the land you came from and the people who share that land."

— Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks

"Patriotism to me is acting in a way that you feel betters your country. CEOs of big corporations making America more economically sound, lawmakers sometimes do things that they think are in the best interest of America, anything that could have a positive outcome for America ... it doesn't have to be showy."

— Sgt. Sean Baumgartner, U.S. Marine Corps

"Personally for me it's never forgetting how fortunate we all are to live in this great country. I think the beauty of America is in its diversity. ... I come from immigrant stock. I'm first-generation American, so I know how fortunate I am to live here."

— Tom O'Sullivan, detective with the Boone County Sheriff's Department

"For myself, patriotism means to put my personal needs aside when called upon to serve my country and state in times of war and crisis. I remain very devoted to my wife and children, but our family all understands my oath to serve as an officer in the military."

— Jamie Melchert, commander of the 1138th Transportation Company, Missouri National Guard. Melchert and his unit have been deployed to Afghanistan and are scheduled to return in April.

"I consider myself more of a citizen of the world than any country. When it comes to patriotism, things I find to be proud about on the Fourth of July are the American people themselves and being an open and accepting country."

— Care Francis, MU student from Columbia, peace activist and Peace Nook volunteer

"Patriotism to me means just being proud of the country that we live in, being thankful for our freedom and all that military people and veterans over the years that have fought for our country, basically all the men and women that fight hard for all the core value this country stands on."

— Marcus Wright, battalion chief with the Columbia Fire Department

"Patriotism means to me freedom of choice and the right to state your own opinions. We actually get to show it. If we didn't have our freedom, we couldn't (re-enact the Civil War). We get to help educate people on the sacrifices our forefathers gave for us."

— Charles Cunningham, Civil War re-enactor who portrays a surgeon with the Confederate Missouri Brigade Medical Service

“Patriotism is just love and devotion to our country. It is being a citizen that contributes positively to their society and supports our country and those who defend it.”

— Jennifer Wingert, summer school principal at Grant Elementary School

“Patriotism ... is gratitude for the blessings we experience because we happened to be born into the United States, to be grateful both for the material abundance and the legal system which generally protects opportunities. However, as a Christian, I owe respect and gratitude for my nation, but I owe allegiance to the Creator God.

“This allegiance requires that I be honest about my nation, again with gratitude for it’s strengths and goodness. Also, honesty about the failures, how the promises have not been experienced by everyone.

“I owe my country honor, but I owe my allegiance to God.

“I believe that true patriotism for U.S. citizens includes asking whether the original values of freedom and opportunity are being extended to all.”

— The Rev. Paul Moessner, senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

"The sacrifices that people have made so we have the freedoms we have."

— Rich Harris, firefighter for the Columbia Fire Department

"I think patriotism to me means standing up for what our country was founded upon, standing up for the beliefs of of the country, standing up for freedom and being willing to serve ... our fellow citizens as well."

— Eric Hartman, captain with the Columbia Fire Department and member of the 442nd Civil Engineering Squadron of the Air Force Reserve

“Many Christians today who appeal to the Bible's authority call for an unhealthy patriotism. America and her citizens are not the pinnacle of civilization. Championing this is not only historically ignorant and pretentious, it's biblically unfaithful. Although we should certainly appreciate those who have fought for our freedoms and who have paved the way for us to even have this conversation, American Christians should have a more true and even better vision for being citizens of the Kingdom of God. ... May God bless America, but may He only do so that more of her citizens, as well as more and more people from across the globe, become citizens of heaven.”

— Kevin Larson, lead pastor for Karis Community Church

Patriotism, a personal experience

Erin Lampton is a mother of four and a former military spouse who served as a family support adviser to the brigade her husband served. She helped hundreds of  military families adjust to deployments. Her family was in Germany for a year before her husband was deployed to Iraq in 2007. She was living in a foreign country and had three boys younger than 12 to care for by herself.

Her duties as a family support adviser included regular visits to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. She would go to the hospital sometimes five times per week, sometimes twice per day, giving wounded soldiers support when their families could not be at their side. One soldier asked her to send a picture of him giving a thumbs up to his mother, another asked for his favorite German dish, a schnitzel.

This experience helped shape her definition of patriotism:

"Patriotism is to me the right we have every day to celebrate our freedoms, and the fact we get up and do that is an honor to those who have fought for those freedoms."

To give of self and do what needs to be done shows the extreme strength at the heart of patriotism, Lampton said.

— Sarah Strasburg

Memorial Baptist Church Pastor Todd Pridemore and his wife, Carolyn, adopted their son, Titus, in Ethiopia when he was 5 months old. Titus turned 3 this year.

“When we traveled to Ethiopia to meet Titus, … we got the understanding that we were … not welcomed there because we were Americans,” Pridemore said. The experience taught him something about patriotism.

“I really value the patriotic ideas of freedom and liberty,” Pridemore said. “I struggle a little bit with the idea of patriotism that is ‘America is better than everyone else.’”

To Pridemore, patriotism means “being able to acknowledge and celebrate the freedoms we have as Americans.”

As Titus gets older, Pridemore and his wife will start to talk with him about “being born in another country.”

“We are blessed with freedom in a lot of ways,” Pridemore said. “I try to balance a patriotic mindset that is not egocentric, that is not about American dominance."

— Laura Heck

Rashed Nizam, chairman of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri Board of Directors, said there is a basic Islamic teaching that influences his view on patriotism.

“The principle is ‘forbid the evil, and join the good.’ Based on that principle, we show our patriotism,” Nizam said.

He said that patriotism means loving your country, if that country is supportive and gives “plenty of hope for you and for your family, and for the present and the future.”

In return, he said one's “country deserves all the love and respect from you.”

“Help yourself to be a good citizen and human being,” Nizam said. “Most people are pretty good, but they are not helpful.”

He said the love a person feels for his country “should be expressed by how much I care about the people, … how much I treat other people with respect and dignity.”

— Laura Heck

Among early Americans, the concept of "American" patriotism was almost foreign.

Although the states rebelled together, they kept separate identities. The Articles of Confederation, the first document governing the newly independent colonies, gave nearly all authority to the states and stripped the national government of even basic powers such as printing money and levying taxes.

Back then, a citizen wasn't American so much as a Virginian, a Georgian or a Pennsylvanian. One's patriotism lay with his or her state, MU history professor John Wigger said.

Although the U.S. Constitution strengthened the federal government, citizens continued to feel more loyalty to the states.

John Bullion, another history professor at MU, noted that the Civil War sprung from state-focused patriotism. It wasn't until President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address, he said, that a true sense of national patriotism emerged.

Wigger agreed. Before the Civil War, he said, Americans referred to their country as "these United States." Afterward, they increasingly referred to "the United States."

Bullion said there are two kinds of patriotism: the impersonal kind, which is based on ideas, and the personal kind, drawn from feelings for family and friends.

Bullion likened impersonal patriotism to a soldier fighting for freedom or the rights of fellow citizens. The American Revolution, Wigger said, was "less about throwing out the old rulers and more about ideas. The people who were in power in America before the revolution are essentially the people who were in power after it."

Bullion offered an example of personal patriotism.

"In World War II it was, 'I'm fighting for Mom's apple pie.'"

— Glyn Coakley

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MaryEllen Sievert July 4, 2011 | 3:37 p.m.

The incorrect quote was attributed to me. My statement was attributed to Matt Nappe. I have no idea whose statement was attributed to me but it is far from anything I would have said. The reporter worked so hard to get my statement correct it's a shame that someone screwed it up in layout.
MaryEllen Sievert

(Report Comment)
Anne Christnovich July 4, 2011 | 7:08 p.m.

Thanks for the notification and sorry about the mix up! It's been corrected.

Anne Christnovich
Assistant City Editor

(Report Comment)
Scott Swafford July 4, 2011 | 7:41 p.m.

Ms. Sievert,

I believe I might have made this mistake as I was combining files from different Missourian reporters. My apologies. We should have your comment and Mr. Nappe's straightened out now. Thanks for calling it to our attention and for participating in the project.

Scott Swafford
Senior City Editor

(Report Comment)
Clinton Harding July 5, 2011 | 9:32 a.m.

Very nicely done piece with diverse views. The accompanying photos are just simply weird, however. In most cases (above) they seem unnaturally distorted, poorly lit and just downright unflattering. I don't get the point, unless its to make it appear more 'contemporary'. Sorry, yuck. Let's return to just making a nice, natural portrait of the person.

(Report Comment)
Clint Alwahab July 5, 2011 | 4:02 p.m.

Mr. Harding,

I was in charge of the photo shoot this past weekend and made the lighting and lens choices. The intention of the photographs was not to editorialize or portray anyone in a negative way. They were simply meant to be diverse from the standard headshot that is run or expected.

Though everyone may not agree with the images, they were made with the intention to stand apart.

We are a newspaper with a young staff that are constantly learning, and this shoot was something from which we have all learned.

Clint Alwahab
Assistant Director of Photography

(Report Comment)

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